Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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Brian Beck, Audrey Mahoney, David and Felice Oppenheim, Patty Brown, and others brought an action in the Oakland Circuit Court against Park West Galleries, Inc., and others, alleging, inter alia, breach of contract and fraud. Defendant Park West Galleries, Inc. (Park West) sold art on various cruise ships traversing international waters. Plaintiffs purchased art from Park West on multiple occasions over the course of several years while on different cruise ships in different locations. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court's review centered on whether an arbitration clause included in invoices for plaintiffs’ artwork purchases applied to disputes arising from plaintiffs’ previous artwork purchases when the invoices for the previous purchases did not refer to arbitration. The Court agreed with plaintiffs that the arbitration clause contained in the later invoices could not be applied to disputes arising from prior sales with invoices that did not contain the clause. Each transaction involved a separate and distinct contract, and the facts did not reasonably support a conclusion that the parties intended for the arbitration clause to retroactively apply to the previous contracts. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed that part of the Court of Appeals judgment that extended the arbitration clause to the parties’ prior transactions that did not refer to arbitration. The case was remanded back to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the issues raised in plaintiffs’ appeal that the Court did not address to the extent those issues relate to claims that are not subject to arbitration. In all other respects, leave to appeal was denied because the Court was not persuaded that it needed to review the remaining questions presented. View "Beck v. Park West Galleries, Inc." on Justia Law

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Brian Beck, Audrey Mahoney, David and Felice Oppenheim, Patty Brown, and others brought an action in the Oakland Circuit Court against Park West Galleries, Inc., and others, alleging, inter alia, breach of contract and fraud. Defendant Park West Galleries, Inc. (Park West) sold art on various cruise ships traversing international waters. Plaintiffs purchased art from Park West on multiple occasions over the course of several years while on different cruise ships in different locations. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court's review centered on whether an arbitration clause included in invoices for plaintiffs’ artwork purchases applied to disputes arising from plaintiffs’ previous artwork purchases when the invoices for the previous purchases did not refer to arbitration. The Court agreed with plaintiffs that the arbitration clause contained in the later invoices could not be applied to disputes arising from prior sales with invoices that did not contain the clause. Each transaction involved a separate and distinct contract, and the facts did not reasonably support a conclusion that the parties intended for the arbitration clause to retroactively apply to the previous contracts. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed that part of the Court of Appeals judgment that extended the arbitration clause to the parties’ prior transactions that did not refer to arbitration. The case was remanded back to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the issues raised in plaintiffs’ appeal that the Court did not address to the extent those issues relate to claims that are not subject to arbitration. In all other respects, leave to appeal was denied because the Court was not persuaded that it needed to review the remaining questions presented. View "Beck v. Park West Galleries, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendants, an unlicensed residential builder; his businesses; and Denaglen Corp., a check-cashing service, appealed the Court of Appeals' decision to affirm the grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs, homeowners who contracted to have their home restored following a flood. On appeal, this case raised four issues: (1) whether MCL 339.2412(1), which prohibited an unlicensed builder from "bring[ing] or maintain[ing] an action . . . for the collection of compensation," prevents an unlicensed builder from defending on the merits against claims asserted against him by a homeowner; (2) whether MCL 339.2412(1) provided a homeowner with an independent cause of action for damages arising from the statute's violation; (3) whether a contract for the services of an unlicensed builder was void ab initio or whether it may have some form of continuing legal existence; and (4) whether the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to set aside the default of defendant Denaglen Corp., the check-cashing service. In lieu of granting leave to appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court found that the appellate court erred in granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs. While the Court of Appeals correctly held that MCL 339.2412(1) did not prevent an unlicensed builder from defending against a lawsuit on its merits and did not afford a homeowner an independent cause of action to seek damages for its violation. However, contracts between an innocent homeowner and an unlicensed residential builder were voidable by the homeowner and thereby effective in conveying rights and authorities to both parties and third parties. The Court of Appeals therefore erred when it declared the contract at issue void ab initio, "although that court's error was wholly understandable given the confusing state of applicable law." Finally, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to grant defendant Denaglen relief from its default. However, because the proper amount of damages remained in dispute, Denaglen was free to attempt to challenge the extent of its liability. View "Epps v. 4 Quarters Restoration, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Aroma Wines & Equipment, Inc. was a wholesale wine importer and distributor. Defendant Columbian Distribution Services, Inc. operated warehouses in Michigan. In 2006, Aroma agreed to rent some of Columbian’s climate-controlled warehouse space to store its stock of wine. According to the parties’ agreement, Columbian was required to maintain the wine within a temperature range of 50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. While the agreement required Columbian to provide Aroma with notice before Columbian could transport Aroma’s wine to a different warehouse complex, Columbian reserved the right under the agreement to move the wine without notice “within and between any one or more of the warehouse buildings which comprise the warehouse complex” identified in the agreement. Aroma’s sales declined sharply during 2008, and Aroma began falling behind on its monthly payments to Columbian. In January 2009, Columbian notified Aroma that it was asserting a lien on Aroma’s wine and that Aroma could not pick up any more wine or ship any more orders until past due invoices were paid. In March 2009, Columbian released to Aroma a small portion of its wine in exchange for a $1,000 payment on Aroma’s account. Notwithstanding this payment, Columbian asserted that Aroma had accrued a past-due balance of more than $20,000 on the account. At some point during this dispute, and contrary to the terms of the contract, Columbian removed the wine from its climate-controlled space and transported it to an uncontrolled environment. Aroma alleged that Columbian moved its wine to rent the space to higher-paying customers. Columbian conceded that it moved the wine but claimed that the move was temporary, that its purpose was to renovate the climate-controlled space, and that none of the wine was exposed to extreme temperature conditions. Aroma claimed that the time the wine spent in the uncontrolled space destroyed the wine’s salability. Aroma sued, alleging: (1) breach of contract; (2) violation of the Uniform Commercial Code; (3) common-law conversion; and (4) statutory conversion under MCL 600.2919a(1)(a). Columbian moved for a directed verdict on the statutory conversion claim, arguing that Aroma had failed to provide any evidence to support its assertion that Columbian converted Aroma’s wine to its own use. The motion on this count was granted, and Aroma appealed. After review, the Supreme Court limited review of the case to the trial court's decision on the statutory conversion claim, and reversed. The Court found that plaintiff proffered evidence at trial that would have allowed the jury to conclude that defendant used the wine for some purpose personal to defendant’s interests. As a result, the circuit court erred by granting defendant’s motion for directed verdict on this claim. View "Aroma Wines & Equipment, Inc. v. Columbia Distribution Svcs., Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts
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Plaintiff Fraser Trebilcock Davis & Dunlap, P.C. provided legal services to the defendants, a group of trusts, in connection with the financing and purchase of four hydroelectric dams. Dissatisfied with the representation they received, defendants refused to pay the full sum of fees billed by Fraser Trebilcock. To recover these unpaid fees, Fraser Trebilcock brought the underlying suit against defendants for breach of contract. Pursuant to MCR 2.403, the matter was submitted for a case evaluation, which resulted in an evaluation of $60,000 in favor of Fraser Trebilcock. Fraser Trebilcock accepted the evaluation, but defendants rejected it. The case proceeded to trial, resulting in a verdict for Fraser Trebilcock and a judgment totaling $73,501.90. Throughout the litigation of this breach-of-contract action, Fraser Trebilcock appeared through Michael Perry (a shareholder of the firm) and other lawyers affiliated with the firm. At no point did Fraser Trebilcock retain outside counsel, and there was no indication that the firm entered into a retainer agreement with its member lawyers or received or paid a bill for their services in connection with the litigation. After receiving the verdict, the parties filed posttrial motions: defendants moved for a new trial, and Fraser Trebilcock moved for case-evaluation sanctions under MCR 2.403(O), seeking to recover, inter alia, a “reasonable attorney fee” under MCR 2.403(O)(6)(b) for the legal services performed by its member lawyers. The trial court denied the defendants’ motion for a new trial, and granted Fraser Trebilcock’s motion for case-evaluation sanctions, ruling in particular that Fraser Trebilcock could recover an attorney fee as part of its sanctions. The issue on appeal to the Supreme Court was whether the plaintiff law firm could recover, as case-evaluation sanctions under MCR 2.403(O)(6)(b), a “reasonable attorney fee” for the legal services performed by its own member lawyers in connection with its suit to recover unpaid fees from defendants. Contrary to the determinations of the trial court and the Court of Appeals majority, the Supreme Court concluded it could not. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals was reversed in part, the trial court's award of fees was vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Frazier Trebilcock Davis & Dunlap, P.C. v. Boyce Trust 2350" on Justia Law

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Defendant Benjamin Taub founded Dataspace, Incorporated, in 1994. In 2002, Taub hired plaintiff Rama Madugula as vice president of sales and business development for Dataspace. Around this time, Dataspace also hired an individual named Andrew Flower. Taub was Dataspace's sole shareholder until 2004, when Madugula and Flower became part owners, with Madugula purchasing 29% of the outstanding shares and Flower purchasing 20%. Pursuant to a stockholders agreement, Taub became president, secretary, and treasurer of Dataspace, while Madugula and Flower became vice presidents. After becoming a shareholder, Madugula continued to work for Dataspace. In 2007, Flower exercised his right under the buy-sell agreement and voluntarily withdrew from Dataspace. Taub and Madugula purchased Flower's shares, increasing Madugula's interest to about 36% of the shares. Around this time, with Dataspace allegedly struggling, Taub switched the focus of Dataspace to marketing a new product that it developed called JPAS, a software platform. At the time, Madugula did not object to the new focus. In August 2007, Taub terminated Madugula's employment with Dataspace. Because of his termination, Madugula no longer received a salary from Dataspace, but he maintained his board position and his interest in the company. Madugula sued Taub and Dataspace, asserting: (1) shareholder; (2) breach of the duty of good faith; (3) common-law fraud and misrepresentation; (4) exemplary damages; (5) an appointment of a receiver; and (6) an accounting of Dataspace. Madugula sought damages, the removal of Taub as a director of Dataspace, the appointment of a receiver to protect the value of his stock in Dataspace, an accounting of Dataspace, and all other relief that he was entitled to in equity or law. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Taub and Dataspace, dismissing all counts against them except Madugula's claim of shareholder oppression. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that the plaint language of Michigan's shareholder-oppression statute, did not afford a claimant a right to a jury trial and, instead, expressed a legislative intent to have shareholder-oppression claims heard by a court of equity. Furthermore, the Court held that violations of a shareholder agreement may constitute evidence of shareholder oppression pursuant to the statute. Because the trial court erred by submitting plaintiff's claim to the jury and allowing it to award an equitable remedy, the Court of Appeals erred by affirming the trial court's judgment in favor of plaintiff. View "Madugula v. Taub" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved Empire Fire and Marine Insurance Company's obligations under an "Insurance for Non-Trucking Use" policy issued to Drielick Trucking. The policy contained a business-use exclusion, which included two clauses that Empire argued precluded coverage in this case. The Court of Appeals agreed that the first clause precluded coverage when the covered vehicle was not carrying property at the time of the accident, was in this case. Thus, the Court of Appeals expressly declined to address the second clause relating to leased covered vehicles. The Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals erred in its interpretation of the first clause. The case to the trial court for further fact-finding to determine whether Drielick Trucking and Great Lakes Carriers Corporation (GLC) entered into a leasing agreement for the use of Drielick Trucking’s semi-tractors as was contemplated under the policy's clause related to a leased covered vehicle. View "Estate of Eugene Hunt v. Drielick" on Justia Law

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Chrysler Group, LLC and plaintiff LaFontaine Saline Inc. (LaFontaine), an authorized Chrysler automobile dealer, entered into a Dealer Agreement in 2007, granting LaFontaine the non-exclusive right to sell Dodge vehicles from its location in Saline, Michigan, and defined LaFontaine’s Sales Locality as "the area designated in writing to [LaFontaine] by [Chrysler] from time to time as the territory of [LaFontaine’s] responsibility for the sale of [Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge] vehicles, vehicle parts and accessories . . . ." This case centered on whether the 2010 amendment of the Motor Vehicle Dealer Act (MVDA) (expanding the relevant market area) from a six-mile radius to a nine-mile radius, applied retroactively. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that it did not. The Court therefore vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the Circuit Court for reinstatement of summary judgment in favor of Chrysler. View "LaFontaine Saline, Inc. v. Chrysler Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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Acorn Investment Co. sued the Michigan Basic Property Insurance Association seeking to recover losses suffered in a fire on Acorn’s property. Michigan Basic had denied coverage on the basis that the policy had been canceled before the fire occurred. The case proceeded to case evaluation, which resulted in an award of $11,000 in Acorn’s favor. Acorn accepted the award, but Michigan Basic rejected it. The circuit court granted summary judgment in Acorn’s favor, ruling that the notice of cancellation was insufficient to effectively cancel the policy. The parties then agreed to submit the matter to an appraisal panel as permitted in the insurance policy and by statute. The appraisal panel determined that Acorn’s claim was worth $20,877. Acorn moved for entry of a judgment and also sought interest, case evaluation sanctions, and expenses for the removal of debris. The court entered a judgment in Acorn’s favor for $20,877 plus interest but declined to award case evaluation sanctions or debris-removal expenses. Michigan Basic paid the judgment, and Acorn appealed the denial of the sanctions and expenses. The Court of Appeals affirmed, but the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Court held that the circuit court could award actual costs to Acorn. The Supreme Court vacated the appellate court with respect to the award of debris-removal expenses: the issue was remanded to the circuit court to determine whether the appraisal panel awarded expenses as part of its award, left them for the circuit court to determine, or whether Acorn waived its right to claim them. View "Acorn Investment Co. v. Michigan Basic Property Insurance Assn." on Justia Law

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Miller-Davis Company was an "at risk" contractor for the Sherman Lake YMCA's natatorium project. Miller-Davis hired defendant Ahrens Construction, Inc., as a subcontractor to install similar roof systems on three rooms, including the natatorium. After nearly a decade of litigation and alternative dispute resolution proceedings, the indemnification contract underlying the troubled natatorium roof in this case was brought before the Supreme Court. The Court previously held that the six-year period of limitations of MCL 600.5807(8) applied to the parties’ indemnification contract. Upon further review, the Court held that the indemnity clauses in the parties’ subcontract applied here, because the plain language of the indemnification clauses extended to Ahrens’s failure to undertake corrective work as obligated by the subcontract. Furthermore, because the Sherman Lake YMCA made a "claim" upon Miller-Davis which triggered Ahrens’s liability under the indemnity clauses, Ahrens’ failure to indemnify caused the damages Miller-Davis sustained in undertaking the corrective work itself. Finally, the Court held that Miller-Davis’ claim was not barred by the six-year statute of limitations found in MCL 600.5807(8). Rather, Miller-Davis’ breach of contract claim for Ahrens’s failure to indemnify is distinct from its breach of contract claim based on Ahrens’s failure to install the roof according to specifications, and Miller-Davis’s indemnity action necessarily accrued at a later point. The Court reversed that portion of the Court of Appeals’ opinion discussing Miller-Davis’s indemnity claim, and remanded this case to the Circuit Court for entry of judgment in Miller-Davis’s favor and to determine whether Miller-Davis is entitled to attorney’s fees under the relevant indemnification clauses. View "Miller-Davis Co. v. Ahrens Construction, Inc." on Justia Law